In my most recent writing “A Response: As We See It: Black Elders On Writing On Dance (Eva Yaa Asantewaa in Conversation with Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, and Charmain Warren)” in The Movement Performance Journal #56 (Summer 2022), I was intrigued by Dr. Warren’s discussion of her blog “What I Saw” which offered her the opportunity to “say something there before [she] had it in print at The Amsterdam News” (Warren 2022, 29). I thought that this approach was most fitting for this review.
The audience enters in groups. We are confronted with the challenge of navigating the tight dark space to get to our seats; this design element captures the vibe and authenticity of a boxing/wrestling match/arena. There is also excitement in seeing the beautiful red bold structure that contained the two male dancers Tushrik Fredericks (performer) & Shamel Pitts (concept direction and choreographer) who were already in motion when we arrived. They were contracting and bouncing in a very close and contained manner. As I sat in my seat, taking in the elements, I was reminded of Nora Chipaumire’s prolific piece Portrait of Myself As My Father which also features a boxing arena. I was curious to see and experience how Pitts would articulate his impressions and deconstruction of masculinity through this design and concept.
My focus shifted on the costumes designed by Dion Lee. Pitts wore red cut out leggings with a red mid-riff top with his arms exposed. Fredericks wore a red bikertard with long sleeves. Both men wore black socks and black slip-on shoes/boots which balanced the bold frame of red (costume, marley/floor, lighting, frame of the arena). The original music score was created by Sivan Jacobovitz and Taylor Antisdel was the featured cinematographer. The sound score was a seemingly abstract melodious concoction that was reminiscent of a muffled house groove at certain points in the work. The cinematography and soundscape were engaged in a performative matrimony. Spatial patterns moved on the diagonal, sometimes clockwise and counterclockwise. The dancers maintained close contact most of the work and separated heading to their opposing corners to hydrate and recalibrate.
The movement vocabulary features a multitude of forms and aesthetics. I saw: Gaga Movement; Lindy Hop; House/African/Afro Beat(ish); Child’s play; Pedestrian, Animals Playing and Copulating, Irish Clogging, Yoga, Pas de deux: Tango/ Paso Doble (sans the passion, intensity, and eye contact). There is quite a lot happening in the work. I also saw some elements of Lil Buck’s alluring aesthetic. The duo’s strongest moments were when they were actually touching, feeling, and allowing themselves to become enthralled with each other through touch, play, sensuality, sexuality, challenge, and trust.
There are some strong elements and others that are not so clear and don’t connect to the narrative and the cinematography, and at times overshadowed the dancers’ performance. Pitts’s discussion of male vulnerability was not as prevalent aesthetically. This concept, juxtaposed with the boxing ring, which is the epitome of male power, strength, and at times vulnerability (when they are holding on to each other, embracing each other out of necessity and desperation) was lost at times. I looked for moments when Pitts was going to queer heterosexuality “and “relationships [within] normative social and political structures” (Ellis 2020, 208). I did not see this but that’s OK. At the end of the performance, the dancers went to each quadrant and shared a story with the audience. I appreciated this moment offered by the performers. I did see elements of these reflections demonstrated in the work. Pitts’s reflection was evidenced in the duet that featured the “strongest moment” in the work. Fredricks reflection was evident at various times throughout the piece where it appeared that they were both in a club together unaware of anyone else’s existence. This is WHAT I SAW.
Image 1 (photo credit): Young Arts
Image 2 (photo credit): Miami New Times
Ellis, Nadia. 2022. “Out and Bad: Toward a Queer Performance Hermeneutic in Jamaican Dancehall.” In Dancehall: A Reader on Jamaican Music and Culture, ed. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, 205-222. The University of the West Indies Press: Jamaica.
Yaa Asantewaa, Eva. 2022. “As We See It: Black Elders On Writing On Dance (Eva Yaa Asantewaa in Conversation with Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, and Charmain Warren)” in Movement Performance Journal (56):27-35.